A new report from Australian cleaning union United Voice has uncovered a “7-Eleven-style” wage theft scandal currently taking place in Victorian Government schools, with state school cleaners paid as little as $2.60 per hour.
Wage Theft in Victorian Government Schools, released Friday 12 May 2017, reveals that 81 per cent of school cleaners are being paid below award wages. One cleaner was found to have been paid just $2.63 per hour cash in hand for her first week of work.
Thirty-two per cent are not being paid for all of their work and nearly one in five workers were working at schools under sham contracting arrangements, employed on ABNs and denied such basic entitlements as sick leave, annual leave and superannuation.
United Voice estimates the total wage theft exceeds $10 million per year across Victoria’s 4000 state school cleaners.
Victorian Department responds
“We take any allegation of non-compliance seriously and value our school cleaners and the work they do,” said a Department spokeswoman. “Allegations of non-compliance, including those made by United Voice, have therefore been investigated with one cleaning contractor (Ramos Cleaning Services) terminated on 5 May for underpaying staff.
“Schools are required to appoint cleaning contractors approved by the Department’s centralised School Cleaning Panel and to regularly check that cleaners comply with all regulations, including Working With Children Checks.”
The spokeswoman added that the Victorian Government has recently improved the delivery of cleaning services at government, including working closely with the United Voice as a key stakeholder and member of the Contract Cleaning Advisory Committee.
“Department investigations of cleaning contractors entail extensive interviews with contractors, employees and schools, as well as analysis of wage documentation and payment systems.”
United voice: “This is industrial-scale wage theft.”
“What we’re seeing here is a 7-Eleven-style wage theft scandal right under the nose of the Victorian Government,” said Jess Walsh, Victorian Secretary of United Voice.
“Hundreds of fly-by-night contractors have free rein to steal wages from some of Victoria’s lowest paid workers, and use fear and intimidation to silence them. This is industrial-scale wage theft. And it’s happening because the Department is utterly incapable of effectively monitoring these fly-by-night operators.”
Walsh added that the Victorian department is trying to monitor more than 700 contractors operating 1750 contracts, which she described as a “recipe for disaster”.
“In NSW there are just 11 school cleaning contracts across the state that its government needs to monitor. The system is broken. Reform cannot wait a second longer.
“School communities need a stable, reliable school cleaning workforce, yet here we have some of the most insecure jobs imaginable. There is a revolving door of cleaners, employed on ABNs, casually and cash-in-hand. They have zero job security.”
The survey, which was conducted across 142 schools, found 72 per cent of cleaners were born overseas and that many had minimal English and did not know what they were entitled to be paid. 28 per cent were on temporary visas and 17 per cent are international students.
Almost 7 per cent of the cleaners surveyed also did not have a Working With Children Check (WWCC), or did not know what it was or wouldn’t answer the question.
Under Department of Education & Training rules, cleaning contractors are required to ensure all staff have undergone WWCC. Contractors must sign a form agreeing to comply with this requirement, however this is not being enforced.